Ready to drive?
Hiring self-drive boats is popular, particularly for fishing in Norway
After months or even years of anticipation and hard saving, a couple of flights, a long drive and possibly a short trip or two aboard a ferry, finally you arrive at your self-catering cabin at one of Arctic Norway’s many fishing camps. Even your luggage has completed the journey unscathed.
With perfect weather conditions beckoning and your self-drive boat waiting fully fuelled and ready to go at her berth at the camp dock, it’s hardly surprising you are excited at the prospects of catching some of the incredible fish that first attracted you to travel to these richest of rich seas. Maybe you or one of your party is experienced at boat handling or perhaps you own a boat, but, for many, assuming the role of skipper will be a new experience.
If you fall into the former category then a run through of the camp’s rules and operating policy from the fishing manager, followed by some on-board familiarisation, should see you safely on your way. If, however, you fall into the latter, inexperienced category, I suggest you suppress your enthusiasm to fish and spend an hour or two getting to grips with the boat, before heading out to sea. Here are five main areas to consider to get the best from your hire boat…
NOMINATE A SKIPPER
At all of the many camps I’ve fished throughout Norway, the fishing manager, or another nominated person, will brief you on the boat when you arrive. My first piece of advice is to pay full attention to what he or she has to say.
Typically, there will be three or four in your party who will be fishing aboard your boat, and if this is the case, I suggest that straight away one of you is nominated as the skipper.
Boat handling is not especially difficult, but getting to grips with a new boat and finding out exactly where everything is and how it works does take time. Even with more than 40 years of boat-handling experience, it still takes me a few hours to become thoroughly comfortable running a new boat, just as it takes a while to get the feel of a strange car. It’s not so much actually driving the boat, but getting the hang of what’s what and where everything is, and how to operate the electronics.
I suggest that only the nominated driver goes down to the boat to meet the manager for this initial familiarisation session. This will give him the best opportunity to go over everything slowly and in a methodical way, with time to
ask questions and actually listen to and absorb the answers. If the whole crew descend on the boat, complete with mountains of fishing tackle, things will very quickly become noisy and confused. It is likely you will not get the most from this important familiarisation session.
KNOW THE BOAT
Before you even begin to think about driving the boat, there are a lot of things you need to note. Where is the fuel tank, and is it full? At most camps, boats are handed over at the start of the week with a full tank and expected to be handed back at the end of the week in the same condition, but it is good practice to start each day or new fishing session with a full tank.
You may not plan to go more than a few miles or stay out more than a couple of hours, but once at sea and the fish start biting plans can, and often do, change.
Is the engine petrol or diesel? An obvious question. This past season a crew at Skjervoy fish camp refilled a petrol-driven outboard’s inboard fuel tank with diesel, resulting in a lot of valuable fishing time lost, not to mention incurring considerable additional and unnecessary expense.
Where are the life jackets and the fire extinguisher? Don’t just accept that they are “in that locker,” but open the locker and check them. Indeed, on day one life jackets should be handed out to each crewman, tried on and correctly adjusted, then ideally worn at all times.
Most boats have a battery isolator, or two, which should be switched off at the end of the day to prevent power drain, and obviously back on when you next go fishing. Make sure you know exactly where this is and exactly which position is on and which is off, because it’s not always self-explanatory. Just imagine waking on a perfect morning, enjoying a full cooked breakfast then setting out for a day on the water. You step aboard your hire boat, the skipper turns the ignition key and nothing happens. The power was left on overnight and the batteries have gone flat.
You will need to fully familiarise yourself with the engine’s starting procedure, making certain you know how the kill cord works, and that you know how to smoothly operate the gear shift and engine trim.
Spend a few minutes running through all of the switches operating various lights, windscreen wipers, bilge pumps and electronics, and checking they all work. Finding out the wipers don’t work when punching your way back through heavy rain or sloppy seas throwing sheets of spray over the windscreen is not a great experience. Wipers not working are usually the result of a loose wire or blown fuse that can be very easily fixed.
TRY THE GADGETS
Marine electronics are not difficult to operate, but you need to spend time playing with them in order to figure out how to quickly navigate your way through a particular manufacturer’s menu-driven system. Once again, the manager will run you through these, and don’t forget to ensure the unit’s language display is set up is in English. Better still, why not get him to set up the displays in a format you like and understand, then all you will need to do is switch on the unit when you go fishing?
I always spend as long as it takes to orientate myself around the various menu fields and other functions before I leave the dock on day one.
International law states that in order for a marine VHF radio to be used aboard a boat, at least one person aboard must hold a valid VHF operators certificate. Clearly this is not always possible with self-drive boats, consequently, none of the many self-drive boats I have used in Norway have been fitted with a VHF.
Camps rely on mobile phones to keep in touch with their boats at sea, and visa versa. Yes, I know mobile phones are not ideal, but from much personal experience I have found that the network coverage throughout even the remotest northern fjords is very good.
Ensure you have the relevant contact number or numbers for the camp and manager written down, and stored aboard the boat not in your cabin. Likewise, ensure this number is saved in every one of the crew’s phones, and obviously make sure your phones are fully charged whenever setting off for a day’s fishing.
CHECKS & WEATHER
Finally, take a thorough look around the entire boat checking inside all lockers, noting and photographing any existing damage, which you should bring to the attention of the camp manager before you sail on day one.
Check you have a gaff or landing net on board, and buckets for washing down and emergency bailing. Note the position of all mooring ropes. Do these stay on the dock when you sail, or do they remain aboard the boat? If the latter, ensure they are safely stowed and cannot fall overboard and foul the propeller.
Note the location of all fenders because a lot of serious damage can be caused to the boat’s hull if she is not securely moored and correctly protected with sufficient fenders.
Each day a fresh weather update should be posted in a prominent place at the camp: read it. Regardless of what your various mobile phone weather forecast apps have told you, if the camp says it’s too rough to fish, then it is too rough to fish, end of argument.
Take note of the camp’s limits of operation inside which you must remain at all times, regardless of how good or settled the weather is. Running just a few more miles further from these limits, even under perfect conditions could well take you outside of mobile phone range, which is not a good place to be if you encounter a problem. If you do encounter a problem and for some reason are unable to report it, then clearly the camp will start looking for you where you should be, rather than where you shouldn’t.
DRIVING THE BOAT
If you have never actually driven a boat before, have a few attempts at leaving and returning to your designated berth
under close supervision of the camp manager.
Most close-quarters handling problems occur when a boat is being driving too fast. When operating a boat, the slowest speed is usually the best.
Remember that when you pull back from forward gear into neutral, the momentum of the boat will keep her travelling forward for a distance proportionate to the speed at which you were running. Anticipating this and remembering that as long as you have forward momentum you will also retain steerage, is the key to berthing a boat.
If you think that a particular manoeuvre is not going as planned, then almost certainly it isn’t, so rather than push ahead to ‘see what happens’ stop, back off and reposition in open safe water, and have a second attempt.
Once faced with open water and a calm sea, many anglers have one speed – flat out. Fuel, like most other things in Norway, is expensive, and the faster you run the boat the more fuel you will use, invariably by a considerable margin. Taking things slowly is not only safer and more comfortable for all on board, but also more economical.
Many new boats today are fitted with electronic gauges showing you exactly how much fuel you are burning at any given speed. The extra fuel burn to run at 30 knots rather than 20 knots will provide just a few extra minutes fishing time, at the cost of a serious dent in your credit card.
Clearly, if conditions are not calm you’ll have to run at slower speeds, with the exact speed being dictated by the sea conditions and the type of boat. Regardless of all of these variable factors, if the hull is slamming while underway, you are driving the boat too fast for the prevailing conditions; no argument, so slow down.
■ Next month: Advice on finding fish within a large Norwegian fjord.
Getting to grips with any new boat takes time
Self-drive boats for the fantastic fjords
Petrol or diesel? Get it right!
Make yourself familiar with all the controls